Scarlet Macaw, Buffalo Zoo
When visiting the zoo, make the most of your photos. Taking photos of wildlife is not about looking cute. It is not about looking pretty.
In my last post I showed you how Wild Spirit was about respecting nature and nature’s creatures with the passion to protect and care for them. The natural landscape was protected as well, after all, the property sustains and shelters birds and animals in the wild. So do many of our gardens. Wildlife can be right outside your back door.
I think that many photographing wild animals don’t necessarily make the connection to having a responsibility to protect places that need protecting, especially if they photograph exclusively in a zoo. It is too far removed from the habitats in which these animals live to get an appreciation for what life is like in these places. It is often harsh, trying and is rapidly disappearing.
Scarlet Ibis, M&T Bank Rainforest Falls Exhibit
Photographing wildlife is much more than just taking pretty pictures. It can be about endangered species, or changing people’s minds on conservation. It can be changing attitudes on using pesticides and herbicides worldwide. Photography can be a catalyst for protecting environments that we know very little about. Photography has the power to elicit change.
Riding through the Cloud Forest in Monteverde, Costa Rica. I was there on a research project designing with the environment, wildlife and habitat, and educating youth as critical components.
People who spend time outdoors gardening, hiking or bird-watching are generally accepting of the responsibility of caring for the environment.
Ocelot, M&T Bank Rainforest Falls Exhibit
If you read my post, W4W – Time, you can understand my views on animals kept in zoos and I just took you to a rehabilitation center. These two places exist for reasons other than pleasing a photographer. Both invest in education.
Golden Lion Tamarin, Buffalo Zoo
Photographing at game parks on the other hand, exist only for casual clickers and have no real purpose beyond photography in my opinion. At these game parks, I see many species of animals in the same field exhibits, ones that would never, or should ever be housed together. Some think these places are better than zoos, but for this reason I find them a major concern.
Sure animals have more room to roam, but at what cost? If mixed herds are stressed to what comprises the herd, then this may not be an ideal life either.
I just saw a photo on another blogger’s site taken at a game park not too far from here. All the various species were gathered at the cars looking for a handout of kibble. All I could think of was how dangerous a few of those animals were (male elk with a big spread of antlers and a mature buffalo), and they were mixed with tiny, defenseless animals (possibly muntjak deer).
I did like the Florida, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park though, perhaps it was the size of the attraction or maybe Disney’s attention to detail. The animals seemed happier.
Zoos are not ideal for the animals but they do serve to protect animals that are endangered. Unfortunately, the animals suffer from boredom and it is a shame to keep many of the species that we do.
For the reason of breeding programs to help combat endangerment alone there is a benefit to zoos. Zoos also educate, another plus.
And I view photos of the animals the same way. The photos may tell a story of a creature on the brink of extinction someday. And unfortunately, photos may be all that remains of certain animals, even if they look a bit devoid of emotion in the images.
White Faced Saki, M&T Bank Rainforest Falls Exhibit
When you photograph truly wild animals, you need to know as much about them and their habits as you can. That is so much more difficult than shooting animals in a zoo or rehabilitation center. But it helps to know behavior in those places as well, like when I mentioned last post of getting the varied expressions.
Ring-Tailed Lemur, Buffalo Zoo
For example, wild birds like to keep a safe distance, so it is best to move slowly and not in a straight line toward a bird. Birds see minute movements and readily detect direct eye contact and view it as a threat. I find this especially true with raptors, more so than birds accustomed to human contact who are more likely to dismiss our actions.
Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, my backyard
Many say they can not get close to hummingbirds and the birds leave if they are outside. I find I can sit in the yard by knowing their behavior. Hummingbirds are territorial and need to feed very often. They will get comfortable around people they see in the garden regularly, like the little Ruby Throated above. I was only seven feet away.
The key is being out there before they are scheduled to arrive and make no quick movements in their direction. See my post, Photographing a Hummingbird in Flight – Useful Tips.
Roseate Spoonbill, M&T Bank Rainforest Falls Exhibit
To get more meaningful images, try to take a profile photo, possibly showing just one of the animal’s eyes, or better yet, a full view of its face with both eyes visible.
Snowy Owl, Wild Spirit Education, image from Helping Wildlife and Bettering the Habitat
Peafowl, Buffalo Zoo
Flying birds make for good action shots. Raptors such as hawks, like to perch high to watch and wait for an unsuspecting moving meal below. You’ll know when they’re ready to take off because you will often see bird droppings before the lift off.
Tips like these will be in a future post on photographing birds. I love to study their behavior in addition to photographing them. It makes anticipating what they might do a little more reliable. Having my own bird helps in the understanding too.
Monteverde , Costa Rica, plan a trip to where interesting animals are located!
White-Faced Saki, M&T Bank Rainforest Falls Exhibit
Here are some tips I learned from shooting at the zoo. Some are tips that help when you are out in the field too.
I have been photographing animals my whole life, so these are things I learned from over thirty years with my Nikon cameras. I am not a professional and don’t pretend to be one, but sometimes an amateur can help out another with problems they may encounter more easily.
We learn from trial and error and often run into things a seasoned pro might overlook as too routine or simple. Being an architect and Master Gardener, I know this all too well. You just don’t know what others might know or not know.
I have been getting emails from individuals asking for my ‘advice’ on photographing in certain situations. I am doing my best to give tips in a way that is both accurate and easily understandable.
My next ‘photo’ post will be on macro photography, and after that, one on shooting birds. Both are posts that directly relate to gardens. You might find useful tips you did not know.
Lion, Buffalo Zoo
I am trying to put together posts that will really help out beginners. I encourage everyone to go to the pro sites too.
Now for zoo tips…
- When shooting in a zoo, like most of these images, I like to shoot a shallow depth of field as it isolates the animals and directs the viewer’s attention to the subject. More importantly, it takes the ‘zoo’ out of the image. But I do it too when I shoot the animals in the field. There, it is more for removing a distracting or busy landscape.
- For how I get shallow depth of field, see the post, Depth-Of-Field – How to Love the Blur.
- One thing to note. Always be honest where your images are taken. Just because you remove traces of the physical zoo structures, does not mean the images should be falsely portrayed. I find this respectful of those photographers that take photos on location, where it is sometimes painstaking to get those images.
Male Lion, Buffalo Zoo
- I take two cameras, each with a different lens. One is for getting in a little of their environment, and the other is for zooming in and removing their surroundings. It is for extending my view too since often the animals are a distance away.
Snow Leopard, Buffalo Zoo
- I find when shooting through a fence at a zoo, it is best not to be really close to it. It is more for the sake of the animals, not the photograph. They are less fearful if you are a few steps back. The animal has to be a distance back from the fence as well. It is best at ten feet or so, too close and the fence becomes part of the image, like shown above. That photo was taken for my ‘editorial’ post on zoos, so it was making a strong point to supplement the text.
- I usually shoot handheld as opposed to using a tripod. Our local zoo has let me bring in a tripod, but many do not. When visiting zoos across the country and beyond, I never even consider bringing in the tripod. Some exhibits even post for no baby strollers either, so you have to be aware of their restrictions. The idea is not to upset the animals.
- That goes for flash too. I always shoot at a lower shutter speed and raise the ISO to avoid using flash. The issue with flash has more to do with the environment rather than the animals. The reflective glass is the problem, but you can reduce that if you stand at an angle to the glass. Try about 45°. The Saki, Lemur and Tamarin were all shot behind glass.
Polar Bear at feeding time, Buffalo Zoo
- Timing is everything. Animals know when it’s feeding time, and that’s when they’re going to be their most responsive to people. I sometimes follow the guys with the buckets. You should see the animals come to life.
Spotted Hyena taking a siesta at the Buffalo Zoo
- When it comes to the light, overcast days are the best for photographing at the zoo if you can’t get there early morning or late afternoon. Lousy weather days are good because many animals are active when it’s snowy, rainy or cooler and overcast in the warm months. Clouds make a great diffuser. A day threatening rain will mean fewer people. When it’s snowing, animals like the snow leopards and polar bears are usually out enjoying the day.
- Pay attention to the light while you are shooting. Bright light means a faster shutter speed but if the light is harsh, you’ll end up with an image with blown out highlights and very dark shadows, like the polar bear above.
- Buying a membership is a good idea because it allows access whenever the member wants, plus there are other benefits, like private events. It is unlikely you will get really great images your first time at the zoo. Members have access anytime the zoo is open and that lets you pick your best weather conditions.
Golden Lion Tamarin, Buffalo Zoo
I found a new site that I like very much and you might as well. Nature and Photography has a lot of good advice and is very well written. Rob Sheppard is a naturalist, nature photographer and author. I have seen his work before and read articles of his, but did not know he had a blog. If you like nature and photography, you will surely love this site.
What caught my eye was his wonderful work, but also the similarity of some of his shots to my own. The above image is from my post, Dragonflies, A Photo Shoot at the Lake. But his post has many shots of dragonflies, Photographing Dragonflies. I guess I am on the right track. Go and see. If you like my photos, go see a professional shooting many of the same, only with the expertise of being a naturalist and a pro photographer.
I will be away next week and will see you all when I get back. I will have garden walk posts scheduled in my absence, plus a rant called All Tech and No Talent on a popular trend in photo sharing. Of course, it should rattle a few that love the app.